Gabriel Sistare, staff writer
On Tuesday, Nov. 11, 150 people convened at St. Eugene’s Catholic Church in East Asheville to participate in a dialogue on immigration.
Initiated by the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council (CRC), the forum provided the local community with an opportunity to publicly discuss the immigration issue that has deeply affected Western North Carolina. Bob Smith, executive director of the CRC, introduced the meeting saying, “our goal is not so much to agree but to understand.”
The meeting was a chance for neighbors to share their experiences with the community, and for the issue to be solved by the general community rather than elected officials.
“We don’t want [Asheville Mayor] Terry Bellamy, [City Council member] Carl Mumpower, or Sheriff Duncan to deal with the issue,” said Ada Volkmer, a staff member at the Coalition of Latino-American Organizations, a regional network connecting organizations that empower Latino communities in Western North Carolina.
Craig White, a moderator and CRC board member, invited the meeting participants to “wonder who that [other] person is, and what has their experience been.”
Proposed by a number of different speakers, the question was asked whether this was an issue of immigration or discrimination. One community member asked “why has immigration become synonymous with being Latino and illegal?”
Juan Holladay, a Warren Wilson graduate, suggested that the immigration debate be shifted away from an issue of race, which Holladay said is “really hard to heal and takes a long time and compassion and patience” and cannot be “legislated away.”
The children inevitably affected by the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids were a concern for many. Joe Lowry told a story of one woman detained by ICE officials whose eight children are U.S. Citizens.
“What happens to them when their parents are deported?” Lowry asked.
Lowell Ramirez said that his nieces have had to watch their friends disappear, not understanding what was happening.
David McMillan, a Buncombe County resident, alluded to precarious work conditions in North Carolina.
“Workers in this state are not safe, so how can we take care of strangers in our midst?” McMillan asked.
Representing the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office at the forum was Captain Glen Matayabas. Matayabas reassured the audience.
“Buncombe County is not 287g,” Mataybas said, referring to the law allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement, allowing local officials to enforce immigration law.
Towards the end of the meeting, one citizen requested that “we ask a new question. What have we done? How are we responsible for immigration?”